Why go to Pohnpei?


“Paradise, but not as you know it” might be a good strapline to promote Pohnpei.  Then again, most folks on the tiny Pacific island don’t seem to care much about attracting tourists to their shores. If you like your travel destinations set up to make life as easy as possible for you as a visitor, this is not the place for you.



Take a drive for example and you’ll be struck by the total absence of road signs. The odd hotels or bar has put up a sign to let people know where they are. There’s one road sign for Palikir, the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia of which Pohnpei is a part. But try and work out which village you’re driving through and you’ll soon be throwing away your map in frustration.  With so few visitors (“You’re from Britain? Yes, we have many British visitors – another couple came here six months ago”) the need for signposts has never really arisen.



Don’t come to Pohnpei for beaches. Apart from a few sandy corners most of the coast is marked by inaccessible rocks or by dense mangrove. There are nearby atolls with pristine white sand that  are only a short boat trip away and the snorkelling on the reefs around Pohnpei is easily accessible. We met a surfer who had flown all the way from Brazil just to have the waves along the Pohnpei coast all to himself.



That few people have heard of Pohnpei is all the more surprising given that it is home to one of the most astounding historical sites in the Pacific regions. Nan Madol is an abandoned city built in the 11th century on water (the Venice of the Pacific labels are inevitable). Stick the ruins of Nan Madol anywhere else in the world and you’d have thousands of people visiting each day. Our small group of seven had the place to ourselves; the previous day only two had come to explore the dramatic stone ruins, spread across 223 acres and built on 98 individual islands in the shallow clear waters of the Pacific.



Pohnpei is known as one of the wettest places on the planet and if you come here be prepared for the fact that however clear the skies may look, rain clouds can appear without warning and deliver an almighty soaking. The rain is actually quite pleasant given that the temperature is a fairly constant 28-30 degrees day and night, but you’ll need to carry a supply of plastic bags to help protect your valuables from the deluge.




Recommended reading




If you are thinking of heading to Pohnpei I’d recommend reading Up Pohnpei by Paul Watson. Paul is a young lad from England who travelled to the island recently to coach the Pohnpei state football team, having discovered that they had never previously won a game. His descriptions of Pohnpei, its people and the complexities of island life are entertaining and a good taster for a visit to this charming part of the world.


You can get the Pohnpei included in your RTW here



User Rating:/2



“An artist told me he was upset with Chinatown because it was supposed to be the artistic centre of Hawaii, but it wasn’t delivering,” says Brandon Reid, Honolulu bar owner. “He said all we needed was wall space, lighting and a bar. We looked up and there was a ‘For Lease’ sign on this window. It just unfolded from there.”

The result was The Manifest (32 N Hotel St, manifesthawaii.com), a lively bar within the capacious interior of a former X-rated cinema. It’s a world away from the tourist bustle of Waikiki, filled with locals catching up in the dimly-lit main room, and local art hanging on the walls above them. Even smoother is the small back bar, where the barman will ply you with an ever-changing selection of Japanese whisky.

For a long time Chinatown it was the city’s notorious red light district, home of brothels and dodgy bars. However, in recent years the district has shrugged off its reputation for vice, and transformed itself into an attractive entertainment zone.

It’s not just about drink; there are some impressive up-to-date food offerings in the area’s narrow streets. The Pig and the Lady (83 N King St, thepigandthelady.com) creates delicious Vietnamese-inspired “Southeast Asian Fusion” dishes, while Cake Envy (1129 Bethel St) serves an array of tasty cheesecakes.

However, the diverse bars are the most distinctive element of Chinatown, adding style and colour.

After leaving The Manifest I step across the street to Smith’s Union Bar (19 N Hotel St). This place is what the Americans call a “dive bar”, an unreconstructed piece of Chinatown’s raucous past. Opened in 1934, it hasn’t changed much since then. The long bar is covered with wood veneer, there’s matting on the walls and just a hint of Tiki design in the grass canopies above. This is a place for no-nonsense beer and spirits.



Nearby is Bar 35 (35 N Hotel St, bar35hawaii.com), where Reid worked before opening The Manifest. It’s a big, lively, dimly-lit space with clusters of people on low couches, drinking and chatting. A DJ in the corner is matching his music with exotic landscapes projected onto the wall behind him. If you’re a beer drinker, this is your destination – there are over 150 beers in stock.

Down a narrow alley is The Mercury (1154 Fort St), a recently renovated, slick place with unadorned concrete floors, big windows and booths. The bar itself is an impressive construction of wooden planks held together by laminate. Though it’s not a big space, there’s a stage for live music.

The Mercury serves food, including poke (the Hawaiian raw fish salad), and has an interesting cocktail menu. I watch as a guy sitting next to me at the bar receives Grandpa’s Favorite, a bourbon and whisky cocktail in which the bourbon is passed through applewood smoke just before being served. 

I end the night listening to live jazz at The Dragon Upstairs (1038 Nu'uanu Ave, thedragonupstairs.com), decorated with huge Chinese theatre masks and a long painting of a golden dragon. The bartender tells me there’s no set cocktail menu, as they make drinks to order. A popular suggestion, she says, is the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, based on (believe it or not) cake-flavoured vodka. I settle for a variant of a Moscow Mule.

It’s been a great night in Chinatown, my newly favourite part of Honolulu. Walking along the streets on a balmy evening, past human-scale buildings, I feel like it’s a district with personality and a past.

“It’s the oldest part of the city,” says Reid. “It’s where the entire world poured through, onto this island.”

They never stopped pouring. And neither did the barmen.




Disclosure: Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Hawaii Tourism and the Oahu Visitors Bureau.

You can get Hawaii included as a stopover on a Navigator  or on our Discoverer round the world deal




Published by Stuart Lodge

User Rating:/1



Honolulu may be the capital of a tropical paradise, but everyone needs a break from palm-shaded sun-kissed sand and surf from time to time (no, really).

The solution? Take a walking tour. Here are three options to get you out and about, sampling the food, architecture and history of a unique Pacific city. 

Food Tour

The recently launched Aloha Food Tour is a great way to dodge a visit to the huge Ala Moana shopping mall if you’re not a fan of shopping. You can leave your travelling partners to their retail therapy and join the tour instead. 

In the streets north of the mall, I join guide Ryan Conching for a journey through the interesting eateries of this diverse neighbourhood.

Starting from a popular brunch spot which serves waffles made from the local root vegetable taro, we visit a local restaurant to try shoyu chicken, a delicious Hawaiian marinated dish involving garlic and ginger. Then it’s Japanese grilled food at a tiny place in a curved brick building with a few aluminium-topped tables. 

A classic bar offers the chance to eat loco moco, a hefty dish invented in the 1940s for hungry surfers. It’s white rice topped with a hamburger pattie, gravy and two eggs over-easy. At Ryan’s urging I add the bar’s hot sauce, made from pineapple, papaya and chilli. It’s excellent.

The next bite is small but weird – it’s a spam musubi, basically a snack-sized piece of Spam wrapped by seaweed to a chunk of sticky rice. There’s no escaping Spam in the Pacific, but it is surprisingly tasty.



We end the tour with shaved ice, another Hawaiian favourite. The ice, heaped in a bowl over ice cream, is flavoured with syrups from the conventional to the unusual. I try it with Pog (passionfruit/orange/guava) syrup and the enchantingly named Li Hing Mui, derived from pulverised dried plum. It’s a perfect dish for a humid day.

Tour $75, book via alohafoodtours.com.


Architecture Tour

Each Saturday the American Institute of Architects runs a tour through the city’s historic downtown area, an attractive repository of architecture from the 19th century onwards. Highlights include the Iolani Palace, once the home of Hawaii’s monarchs and the only former royal palace on US soil; grand civic buildings constructed in a Spanish revival style; old churches; a royal tomb; and the hyper-modernist State Capitol with legislative chambers in the shape of volcanoes.

Tour $10, book via aiahonolulu.org.

History Tour.

Waikiki seems all about the here and now, a dining and shopping hub with a beautiful beach attached. But there are historic secrets beneath the sand and concrete. 

Visit waikikihistorictrail.com to download the Waikiki Historic Trail’s free PDF and map, or follow the trail online. From Kalakaua Park to the Dule Kahanamoku Lagoon, its 23 stops tell tales of temples, taro plantations, fishing grounds, local myths, Hawaiian monarchs, military installations and historic hotels. It’s a fascinating insight into Waikiki’s often overlooked past.

When you’re finished, grab a bite from the all-day breakfast menu at Goofy (1831 Ala Moana Blvd), a nearby upstairs café imitating the humble beach shacks of the good old days. I recommend the Eggs Benedict with taro muffins, purple Okinawan potatoes and fresh kale. Not historic, but tasty.


Disclosure: Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Hawaii Tourism and the Oahu Visitors Bureau.


You can get Hawaii included as a stopover on a Navigator RTW or on our Discoverer Round the world deal





How to make the perfect holiday town



On Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, David Whitley discovers that a decade can make a substantial difference.

Muri doesn’t quite look or feel like it did. The key lure is still the same – the most photogenic stretch of Rarotonga’s lagoon, with four little islets breaking up the not-exactly-arduous monotony of the turquoise-teal waters. But in the ten years that has passed since I was last here, Muri has changed somewhat. 

Memories can be notoriously unreliable things, but I remember Muri as struggling to even count as a village. A handful of resorts, maybe one shop?

But, coming back, things have changed. There are more resorts, some plush and some essentially beach bungalows, but none of them are massive, domineering or high rise. The Cook Islands has a law against building anything higher than a coconut tree and that has held firm here.

Most of these have a restaurant and a bar, so it’s easy to hop between them and pick what you fancy in the evening. But the crucial thing is that they’ve got outside competition. There’s a Vietnamese restaurant, a Mexican place, a burger joint, a bakery… Just enough to make sure you don’t have to faff around making reservations and have plenty of variety to choose from. This is especially the case on the days when the night markets are running – then there are dozens of food stalls to choose from.

There are a few basic shops too – some selling snacks, drinks and toiletries, others selling souvenirs. If you run out of something, in other words, it’s not going to be an almighty pain in the backside to replace. You can just amble down the road for a few minutes.



This sort of thing seems rather prosaic. No-one goes on holiday because there’s a shop selling Coke and toothpaste nearby. But it’s the sort of thing that’s tremendously irritating if it’s missing.

It’s an ingredient that goes into turning Muri into what might be the perfect holiday town. It’s about two-fifths of the way around Rarotonga in a clockwise direction, and within half an hour’s drive of anywhere else on the island. But you usually don’t need to drive, because the tours – mud buggies, bikes, boat cruises, pub crawls and more - either start from Muri or pick-up there.

There is, essentially, just enough going on to not be bored. But it’s not just a checklist of facilities that makes Muri feel perfect – it’s the vibe, too. It’s wonderfully relaxed, never too try-hard, and has enough local flavour to not feel like an isolated cocoon deliberately designed to keep tourists penned in. It’s a place to shamble around in flip-flops while Rarotongans splutter past on their mopeds, then walk into the lagoon from whichever part of the beach happens to appeal at the given moment.

The vibe is simple and laid back, but creating something like this takes long term planning and judgement. There’s a huge Goldilocks factor to creating a little holiday town you lazily fall in love with. It can’t be too big or too small, too busy or too quiet. In future, Muri may tip too far one way. But for now, it has the balance perfect – and it’s the sort of place you want to gush about to anyone who’s prepared to listen.


Photo credit via Cook Islands Tourism board 1 2




Noumea: The Pacific’s great missed opportunity



David Whitley heads to the capital of New Caledonia, and finds himself in a weird throwback.

Cities on paradise islands have a tendency to be surprisingly drab and functional. Samoa, for example, is largely stunning but anyone getting excited about Apia is seriously deluding themselves.

St John’s in Antigua tells a similar story – it’s an absolutely no-frills place where the shop fronts bear the first name of the guys who own them. Multinational logos are surprisingly hard to find.

Bearing this in mind, it would be unreasonable to expect all that much from Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. But it doesn’t fit the pattern.

Driving into Noumea from the airport – which is a good 40km out of town – it becomes clear that Noumea is on a bigger scale than many island capitals. It feels like a proper city rather than a service town, with a definable centre and beach suburbs that seem relatively well-to-do and have a strong smattering of bars and restaurants. It is clearly a city that aims for more than merely functional – it’s the hub of life in New Caledonia and also a holiday destination in its own right.

And it’s in the latter category where everything seems a little bit weird. The expectation might be of Pacific Island relaxedness and quirks, married to a distinctive French chic. But that doesn’t quite materialise.

It’s as if this may have been the case 20 years ago, but everything has been left to gather dust since.

That’s not to say Noumea feels dead – it doesn’t. But it does feel curiously dated, like it’s something that French holidaymakers would have loved in the 1980s, with barely a concession to anything that has happened afterwards. The most up-to-date fonts on shop or restaurant signs feel like they’re from about 1995 at the latest. Noumea feels stuck in the Amiga era while the rest of the world is on Macbooks.



Head to the hilltops, and you’ll get beautiful views out over the world’s largest lagoon, but there’s a remarkable sense of untapped resource here. It’s like France has just forgotten about this outpost of its empire, and the Aussies and New Zealanders would far sooner go to Bali and Fiji than muscle in and put their stamp on things.

The overall feel is of somewhere that could do with a kick up the backside. It doesn’t have a strong Melanesian vibe, while there’s an air of disgust and contempt for the place from the French people who live there. This goes beyond the usual Gallic grumpiness. And then there’s the food, which is both at best mediocre and extremely expensive.

More than a few tricks are being missed here. The main island – Grand Terre – is largely gorgeous, green and hilly, while the lagoon and its white sand beaches are ripe for tourism.

But New Caledonia seems slightly too big to do the proper Pacific Island paradise thing, and slightly too small to have a strong energy of its own. Hopefully, someone will soon find a way to wake Noumea from its bizarre frozen in time state.



by David Whitley






You can get the Noumea included as a stopover on a Navigator round the world

Photo credit 1